Proteomics network enhances collaboration

9 June 2009

Directly or indirectly, proteins are at the core of all biomedical research, whether they’re related to chromosome structure or RNA expression, says Dr. Gregg Morin.

Proteomics – the biochemical study of how protein systems direct cell growth and function at the molecular level – touches every form of life sciences research, including human health.

Researchers focused on proteomes (the complete set of proteins in a cell, tissue or organism) are uncovering details about how proteins are produced, how they communicate and interact to function, and how these functions are influenced by hereditary or environmental factors. This new knowledge is key to understanding disease development and developing targeted new treatments.

Morin is Scientific Director of the BC Proteomics Network (BCPN), one of five Technology/Methodology Platforms funded by MSFHR in 2007. The funding program is the first of its kind in Canada. It was developed by MSFHR to enhance collaboration and sharing of research resources and expertise across BC’s health research institutions.

The Proteomics Nework is jointly-led by Morin, Dr. Christopher Overall and Dr. Christoph Borchers, who each direct a different proteomics facility in British Columbia: one at Canada's Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre at the BC Cancer Agency, one at UBC’s Centre for Blood Research, and one at the University of Victoria Genome BC Proteomics Centre.

The Network uses MSFHR funding to run a variety of programs, including workshops, scientific symposia and training awards. It also provides shared infrastructure and analysis support and supports collaborative research programs.

Network members are currently working on two major biomarker projects in partnership with the James Hogg iCAPTURE Centre at St. Paul’s Hospital. This research centre, also funded by MSFHR, is focused on prevention, diagnosis and treatment of heart, lung and blood vessel disease. “This collaboration significantly improves the Centre’s ability to determine risk for both the development and progression of disease,” says Dr. Bruce McManus, Director of the iCAPTURE Centre and the Providence Heart + Lung Institute at St. Paul’s Hospital.

The Network also supports a small seed grants program. The program offers awards up to $20,000 to encourage university or hospital based research groups to develop their ideas for innovative research programs, using proteomics as a tool for understanding human health. These pilot projects often produce results that lead to full scale grant applications.

Networking funding supports sharing of infrastructure and technical expertise, reducing costs in the individual labs and facilities and providing more opportunities for collaboration. “We have dramatically increased our analytical abilities, through our Software Access Program, which enables our members to share a variety of software products and expertise. This greatly improves the performance of our research projects,” says Morin.

The Network has opened up communication between proteomics experts and other health researchers across the province in a way that creates synergy and transcends institutional boundaries, says Bruce McManus. “The result is that investigators from all areas of health research are becoming more aware of how to involve proteomics in their fields of study.”